Woke Up Lonely, the anticipated second novel from Fiona Maazel, employs a cult, the CIA and the hordes who follow each as the means to consider the personal role of loneliness. In an age when every theory, quip, or grocery list is posted for public consumption, Maazel’s characters are driven to navigate the gap between connection and longing.

At the heart of Woke Up Lonely are Thurlow Dan, the well-intentioned leader of an Army-sized cult, and his ex-wife, Esme, the CIA agent assigned to take him down. In Maazel's alternate America, Dan’s cult, the Helix, is a collective that has grown critical of the government, and most importantly, their disconnected culture. Whether Tea Party or Occupy, or some quirky conglomerate of the two, the group flourishes by recruiting members with a deep need to be known by their fellow man, and their belief that Thurlow Dan is the messianic figure to enable this. But the more the Helix grows—as its members share their stories in meetings and chat rooms, in bars and on television—the more Dan’s isolation reverberates, and his focus narrows to Esme and their daughter, Ida. What’s more, as the cult’s power draws governmental ire, Dan, Esme and the well-drawn cast are propelled toward an endgame of ideals as well as a flesh-and-blood standoff.

Maazel’s execution for the most part escapes political judgment, a thoughtful decision on behalf of story and reader. Instead, she plumbs her subject by combining surgical prose and cavalier plot twists. And humor. Curious, dark humor that Maazel’s established readers will recognize from her first novel, Last Last Chance, which was widely praised and planted her on the list of the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35.”

Slinging together characters that span a failing documentary film producer and the late Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, Woke Up Lonely is Maazel’s take on the ridiculous lengths people will go to for connection, for interaction, for love.

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